The experience

When I went to Saint-Louis to work on a humanitarian project, it seemed to me that many people had an apparent “reduced” activity to say the least: they chatted in the streets, looked at workers working, phoned acquaintances. I couldn’t believe it, we were working hard on the construction site and there were some people, who would have nothing better to do than stare at us for hours from the bordering road.

As a European, that time seemed lost and to better illustrate this notion of time, I would like to share with you the following anecdote. A member of my team and myself had to go to Saint-Louis with our Senegalese camp chief to withdraw some cash from the ATM. We went to the village where we got on a sort of bus. Ironically it was called a “rapid car”. There was no scheduled departure. The bus leaves when it’s full. After a good half hour wait, we finally left. The journey took forever: every kilometer we stopped to load additional passengers. As if the bus wasn’t already full, some passengers even travelled on the step outside the door.

In the end, it took us almost a full day “just” to go take some cash! There is an obvious difference in terms of technology and level of development, that surely influences each culture’s society, but it remains that in Senegal, to travel a few kilometers it can take between one to four hours. That’s a full time zone of a difference! Given these odds, planning and time management can only be different too.

Today, to tell you the truth, I’m experiencing mixed feelings. One of the barriers to development in this country is without a doubt inactivity and the lack of a “work ethos”; on the flip side, I admit that I have a very Western way of envisioning life, where people have to work to make money, live and experience fulfillment. And where, if you want to be happy, doing nothing is not an option.

Senegal, 2013

Who’s telling the story

Nicolas, (French) As a longtime member of France’s Scouts and Guides, in 2011, Nicolas established a team of said “companions” in the hopes of accomplishing a humanitarian project in two years. They reached their goal in July 2013 with a 3-week trip to Senegal. Nicolas was 19 years old and he had just ended his freshman year at Sciences Po.

This short time spent with a culture different than his cannot account for the immense cultural enrichment that it turned out to be. In collaboration with Senegalese scouts, they had three goals: build a portion of the wall enclosing an horticultural center in a village, in the afternoon, cater to the village’s children attending the youth center, and discover some places, authentically.